Durban – The grey clouds that interrupted Durban’s week of sunshine on Wednesday came with a silver lining for Bafana Bafana as the full squad finally got down to training for Saturday’s final World Cup group qualifier against Botswana.
The presence of the five Orlando Pirates players in camp rounded off coach Gordon Igesund’s 23-man squad on Wednesday as they got down to practise at the People’s Park next to Moses Mabhida Stadium.
The day before the arrival of striker Tokelo Rantie from England and Russia-based defender Siyanda Xulu, among other foreign-based players, took the total to 18.
With the entire squad gathered, and everyone fit and fine for a change, not even overcast clouds and a slight drizzle dampened spirits as Igesund worked his charges during a session closed to the media.
Fine-tuning set-piece plays and the movements to improve the team’s finishing are key focus areas for the coach before the crunch match that could determine whether South Africa stay in the race to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year.
“Today is the first day that I have the full squad together, and I’m so pleased because it’s about the first time that there are no last-minute injuries,” said the Durban-born coach on Wednesday.
“All the Orlando Pirates players are in good health, the players from overseas are also at full strength, so there’s no problems because everyone’s looking good.”
The five Buccaneers who joined on Wedmesday, after they arrived from a CAF Champions League match in Egypt at the weekend, were Senzo Meyiwa, Thabo Matlaba, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali and Daine Klate.
They joined their teammate Kermit Erasmus in the squad. He’s been in Durban since Monday because he was not registered for Pirates’ African Champions League campaign.
South Africa needs its best squad in perfect shape to hunt down the Zebras in the hope of reaching the knock-out stage of the African qualifiers.
Bafana Bafana must beat Botswana in Group A and hope that log leaders Ethiopia lose or draw against no-hopers Central African Republic in Congo.
Such an outcome would see South Africa overtake Ethiopia as log leaders and advance to the final qualifying phase for the World Cup. Both matches will kick off at 3.30pm on Saturday.
Winger Klate didn’t feature in the earlier drawn group match with Botswana, but expects a stiff challenge in this southern African derby.
“They are a good outfit and a lot of their top players are in the PSL. For any match in the Cosafa region, the teams up their game against us. We came into the game with no hope, but now we have to give it all in the 90 minutes,” said Klate.
He was referring to South Africa’s earlier group position when they had no chance of overtaking Ethiopia, until the Walya Antelopes were docked points for fielding an ineligible player. Klate and company will lend the side extra mental tenacity following their impressive run in the African Champions League. Although they lost 2-1 to Egyptian side Zamalek at the weekend, they still top their group.
“As a football player you need to be in pressure situations, and it helps when you are in must-win matches. The experience with Pirates has taught us a lot. Hopefully that experience will come in handy against Botswana, who are not as experienced in such situations,” said Klate.
Inexperienced they may be, but Botswana are working flat out in order to register an upset victory.
They were expected to assemble in Durban with a squad that consists of seven players who earn their living in South Africa.